Today’s Smarty Pants post is brought to you by none other than Brian Katcher! You may know him as the author of Almost Perfect and Playing With Matches, as well as the Brian of “Ladies and Brian.” YAngelists, I don’t think I have to tell you what a big deal it is that we finally convinced this esteemed gentlemen to write a post for us. In it, he provides us with a behind the scenes look at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference, plus totes adorable photos of his awesome family! And the best part? This gives us an excuse to congratulate him yet again on winning the Stonewall Award. WE LOVE YOU BRIAN!
Earlier this year, I received notice that Almost Perfect would receive the ALA’s 2011 Stonewall Award for Young Adult/Children’s Literature (for GLBT themed books). Upon receiving this info, I realized two things. Firstly, people were actually reading my books. Secondly, I was going to need new clothes.
My new duds. That’s still the shirt I got married in, though.
After ascertaining that the Stonewall committee realized that I wasn’t the guy who wrote Will Grayson, Will Grayson, I began making plans to take my family to the American Library Association conference in New Orleans. Now most Katcher family travel begins with trying to find a hotel that likely won’t have condom wrappers on the floor (we’ve been burned before). Therefore, we were pleasantly surprised when my publisher said they’d already booked us a room. In the words of Dave Barry, if you’re going to do this, I can’t overemphasize the importance of having Random House pay for everything.
This was my daughter Sophie’s first flight and she handled it well.
When we arrived in New Orleans, we were met by a driver holding a sign that said ‘Katcher’, just like on the TV. My wife, Sandy, insisted we snap a photo.
They took us to the Loew’s Hotel downtown. Speaking as a guy who has stayed in Central American hotels, this was by far the fanciest place I’ve ever spent the night. There was even a TV in the bathroom. I was reminded of the scene in Grapes of Wrath where the Okies encounter flush toilets for the first time.
Sophie took this.
The next day I was sent to the YA authors’ ‘speed dating’ event. That’s where we interrupt a librarians’ breakfast by telling them about ourselves, changing tables every four minutes. I wasn’t sure I could be incredibly fascinating in that amount of time. I did, however, bolster my confidence by chatting with Cheryl Rainfield, author of Scars. Though her book was about sexual abuse and cutting, she was quite charming in real life, and helped me calm down. The breakfast went great, though I did have flashbacks to my dating life, what with sitting across a table from a woman with a glazed expression, awkwardly talking myself up.
Afterwards, I met James Klise, fellow librarian and author of Loved Drugged, a Stonewall Honor Book. FYA, if you ever take my advice on anything, you have got to get this guy for a Between Two Lockers interview. Tell him I sent ya.
We split a cab over to the convention center, where the exhibition hall was located. Now, aside from the Sears Tower, this was the largest building I’ve ever been in. I’ve been in smaller air terminals. And it was all filled with library materials. Thundering past the dull cataloging and furniture vendors (shunted off in the wings, of course), we arrived at the book displays. We’re talking literally acres and acres of books, books, books! Free ARCs! Swag! Authors giving autographs (I saw Kevin Henke)! In the words of Dilbert, I had reached Nerdvana.
Oscar the Robot came online on June 25, 2011, and began to learn at a geometric rate…
After signing some autographs and meeting my publisher in person for the first time, my family and I decided to explore the French Quarter (is it just me or is this sounding like a Miss USA travelogue?). Sandy and I had been in 2003, but that whole week was kind of a blur. We shortly encountered a magical world of rainbows and princesses, which delighted my four-year-old daughter. She even had her picture taken with a beautiful butterfly.
Soon, it was time for the Newberry/Caldecott award banquet. To be quite honest, I had mixed feelings about attending this one. I’m allergic to events where one has to dress up. Plus, my friend Antony John had just arrived (his book, Five Flavors of Dumb, won the 2011 Schneider Family Book Award). I was hoping Antony and I could go crazy in the Big Easy, which for us would probably involve discussing books until well after ten in the evening. I was, however, committed to the banquet.
Luckily, I got to sit between a couple of rowdy librarians (as if there’s any other kind), one of whom runs the Reading Rants book blog.
The dinner was actually a blast. Caldecott winner Erin Stead (A Sick Day for Amos McGee) was charming and Newberry Winner Clare Vanderpool (Moon Over Manifest) was funny. I was most impressed with Tomie dePaola, winner of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Lifetime Achievement Award. Not only was he a great speaker, but for a guy who must have a roomful of awards at home, you could tell he still was deeply touched by this honor.
The greatest thrill of the night was when I was introduced to a guy named Dave, who congratulated me on my award and said he enjoyed my book. After a moment, I realized that this was David freakin’ Levithan, coauthor of Stonewall Honor Book Will Grayson, Will Grayson. And he was talking to me like an ordinary person. I’m afraid my enthusiasm showed, and I’m sure he was glad I wasn’t carrying a copy of The Catcher in the Rye at the time.
The next day was the Stonewall Award brunch. My nerves were not calmed when David Levithan sat at our table. I learned that John Green was also scheduled to be there, but HE WAS SICK. We were sitting between the keynote speakers, noted authors and activists Sarah Schulman and Dorothy Allison. Also attending was the winner of the ‘grownup’ Stonewall Award, Barb Johnson (More of this World or Maybe Another). I was also introduced to many other fascinating authors, including Wendy Moffat, Tom Mendicino, Ellis Avery, and Justin Spring (sorry if I left anyone out).
I gave my speech, and got to listen to many incredible speakers. Again, you really need to interview James Klise.
I’m 99% sure I was the only heterosexual speaker that morning. This is worth noting because the Stonewall is a GLBT Award. The committee very well could have decided that a GLBT author should win. Instead, they chose to give the YA award to a hetero guy from rural Missouri. I was deeply touched by their open-mindedness. Then again, isn’t open-mindedness what this award is all about? Again, a big thank you to the Stonewall Committee.
Of course, being the odd man out meant that a lot of the jokes went over my head. “Looking for Mr. Benson? Oh, uh…ha ha ha?”
Afterward, we all signed autographs. I was shocked at how many people wanted a copy of my book. I also noticed Sandy picking up copies like crazy. It then hit me: THE BOOKS WERE FREE. Dozens of ’em. Real, autographed paperbacks, ours for the asking. We ended up taking so many books we had to ship them home (incidentally, the post office workers in Leesburg, Florida, are the rudest I’ve ever encountered).
We then went out for beignets, which is New Orleans slang for funnel cakes. Never eat those when you’re wearing black pants.
And then the magic ended. We checked out of the luxurious Loews Hotel and into a motel across from a Lowe’s Hardware. But damn, what memories. And we were only there for a couple of days. I can only imagine what it would be like to experience all the workshops, speakers, and presentations.